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Killers Of Ahmaud Arbery Get Life Without Parole

The three men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery Feb. 2020 as the 25-year-old was jogging through Brunswick, Georgia, all faced the death penalty. In a sentencing hearing on Friday, Travis McMichael, and his father, Gregory McMichael, instead will be serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, will serve a life sentence with the possibility of parole. Prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty and Arbery’s family wanted the men to face life imprisonment. Judge Timothy Walmsley honored those requests. Prior to imposing those sentences, Walmsley led a minute-long moment of silence to illustrate just how swiftly Arbery was gunned down.

“The chase that occurred in Satilla Shores occurred over about a five-minute period. And when I thought about this, I thought from a lot of different angles and I kept coming back to the terror of [Arbery],” Walmsley said. He also quoted the defendants’ abhorrent words about Arbery in which they called him an asshole and threatened to kill him, which they ultimately ended up doing. Walmsley described Arbery as being “hunted down and shot” by the men. “And he was killed because individuals in this courtroom took the law into their own hands,” Walmsley added. The judge also quoted Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, who read a victim impact statement earlier during the proceedings.

Travis, who shot and killed Arbery, was found guilty of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony, and one count of false imprisonment. He will be serving a sentence of life without parole plus 20 consecutive years. Greg was found guilty of four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment, and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony. He was found not guilty of malice murder. He will be serving a life sentence without parole plus 20 consecutive years.

Bryan was found guilty of three counts of felony murder, one count of felony assault, one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony, and one count of false imprisonment. He was found not guilty of malice murder, one count of felony murder, and one count of aggravated assault. He has been sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

During the sentencing hearing, Arbery’s family was able to give victim impact statements and the court was also able to hear from character witnesses who support the McMichaels and Bryan. Arbery’s mother, father, and sister all made powerful statements in support of sentencing the three men to life without parole. Marcus Arbery began addressing the court by acknowledging the unfairness of Travis and Gregory being able to sit next to each other as son and father during court proceedings, while Marcus will never get that chance to sit next to Ahmaud ever again. Marcus also addressed the situation surrounding Ahmaud’s murder.

“Not only did they lynch my son in broad daylight, but they killed him while he was doing what he loved more than anything: running. That’s when he felt most alive, most free, and they took all that from him,” Marcus said. “If I could, I would trade places with Ahmaud in a heartbeat, but I can’t, so I’m standing here today to do what he can’t. And that is to fight for him, fight for his memory, his legacy, and to tell you who he was.” Ahmaud’s sister, Jasmine Arbery, did just that in her statement.

“Ahmaud had dark skin that glistened in the sunlight like gold. He had thick, coily hair; he would often like to twist it. Ahmaud had a broad nose and the color of his eyes were riddled with melanin. He was tall with an athletic build. He enjoyed running and had an appreciation for being outdoors,” Jasmine said. “These are the qualities that made these men assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal and chase him with guns drawn. To me, those qualities reflect a young man full of life and energy who looked like me and the people I love.”

“Ahmaud was funny,” Jasmine continued. “He told jokes to lighten the mood because he was a positive thinker. Ahmaud had a big personality and never missed an opportunity to let it shine. Ahmaud had a future that was taken from him… he was robbed of life’s pleasures big and small. He will never be able to fulfill his professional dreams nor will he be able to start a family or be in my daughter’s life.”

Finally, Cooper-Jones spoke before the courtroom. She chose to first address the son she had lost. “This verdict doesn’t bring you back but it does help bring closure to this very difficult chapter in my life. I made a promise to you. Today I laid you to rest. I told you I loved you and someday, somehow, I would get you justice,” Cooper-Jones said. “Son, I love you as much today as I did the day that you were born. Raising you was the honor of my life and I’m very proud of you.”

“My youngest son, he was born on Mother’s Day of 1994,” Cooper-Jones continued. “He had a smile so bright it lit up a room. He was a greedy baby that seemed like he was always searching for something to stick into his mouth. He was always a loving baby who seemed to never tire of hugs, cuddling, and kisses. He loved. He never hesitated to tell me, his sister Jasmine, and his brother Marcus that he loved us. And, your honor, we loved him back. He was messy. He sometimes refused to wear socks or take good care of his good clothing. I wish he would have cut and cleaned his toenails before he went out for that jog that day. I guess he would have if he knew he would be murdered. My family’s going to miss Ahmaud. We’re going to miss his jokes, his impersonations, his warm smile. These men deserve the maximum sentence for their crimes. Ahmaud never said a word to them. He never threatened them. He just wanted to be left alone. They were fully committed to their crimes. Let them be fully committed for their consequences.”

All three white men are facing federal hate crime charges for taking Arbery’s life and menacing the Black man. A separate federal trial is scheduled to begin on February 7. The men each face one count of interference with rights and one count of attempted kidnapping. Travis and Gregory McMichael were also charged with one count of carrying and brandishing a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. Travis’ firearm charge includes the fact that he discharged his weapon.

Arbery’s death and the circumstances surrounding it, which were only discovered after criminal defense attorney Alan Tucker leaked footage of the crimes, has drastically changed how Georgia approaches cases like these. The state finally passed a hate crime bill that allows for additional sentencing options if defendants are convicted of a crime targeting a victim because of their “actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability.”

Article reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Florida Trumpsters From 'The Villages' Busted For Voter Fraud (Of Course)

The Villages, a sprawling retirement community in Florida bigger than Manhattan, is facing some of its residents’ worst fears: voter fraud. As the Orlando Sentinal reports, a fourth resident has been arrested for allegedly casting multiple ballots during the 2020 election. A majority of Villagers voted for Donald Trump to be re-elected and likely buy into the “Big Lie” paranoia that Trump was robbed of his rightful place as president. Perhaps it’s time for Villagers to look within, since it appears as if some of the fraudsters accused of casting multiple ballots likely did so for Trump. Three of those who’ve been accused—Joan Halstead, Jay Ketcik, and John Rider—are very clearly Trump supporters. Halstead and Ketcik are registered Republicans. Though Rider has no party affiliation listed, his Facebook page appears to show multiple pro-Trump posts.

The latest person to be arrested, Charles Franklin Barnes, is registered unaffiliated in both the state of Florida and the state of Connecticut. The 64-year-old was arrested on Tuesday and faces one charge of fraud in casting more than one ballot during an election. He was released from Sumter County Jail after paying a $2,000 bond. Little information has been revealed about how authorities discovered Barnes’ alleged misdeeds. In the case of Halstead, Ketcik, and Rider, it was a mysterious tipster who called themselves “Totes Legit Votes” who alerted Florida’s Division of Elections. The anonymous tipster also emailed Michigan’s Bureau of Elections. “Hello Florida and Michigan!” the email began. “I was looking at voter data between your two states and I noticed a couple records that seem similar.”

Among the tipster’s list of dozens of names, Ketcik was found to have voted by mail in both Michigan and Florida. Ketcik told authorities that, though he indeed filled out a Michigan ballot, it was simply mailed by mistake. “I did not mail that back to Michigan. If it got mailed, I have no idea how. In the move, we’re moving stuff,” Ketcik explained. “We’re sending bills back and forth.” Halstead and Rider, whose names were among those listed by the tipster, appear to have voted in both New York and Florida. All three have pleaded not guilty. The Villages isn’t the only place election officials are homing in on when it comes to potential instances of voter fraud, though it’s certainly one of the most interesting.

Described at times as an adult Disneyland, the Villages is a massive retirement community that now has a footprint in three counties and offers up 50 golf courses, 100 recreation centers, 89 swimming pools, 11 dog parks, 14 grocery stores, thousands of social clubs, a polo field, and three distinct town squares with their own architectural themes. Villagers mostly get around using golf carts and have been known to engage in all sorts of vices, though the Village maintains a facade that’s been compared with The Stepford Wives. It was the subject of a Hulu documentary, Some Kind of Heaven that was released in 2020, and has maintained its notoriety with the occasional odd news story, including repeated coverage about the uptick of STDs in the community.

Officials aren’t content to simply look to the Villages for evidence of voter fraud and have instead set their sights on the numerous snowbirds who call Florida home for only part of the year. Many have homes in other states, as do all the Villagers accused of voter fraud. There’s nothing illegal about being registered to vote in more than one state, but casting multiple ballots is a felony crime in Florida. Those who are found guilty of doing so face penalties of up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison.

Marion County Supervisors of Elections Wesley Wilcox told the South Florida Sun-Sentinal that he and his fellow supervisors are no-nonsense when it comes to voter fraud. “You commit fraud in the state of Florida, and we will do everything possible to catch and charge you. One of the benefits of charging these people is it’s a deterrent,” Wilcox told the paper. “It may take me a year to catch you, but I will catch you.”

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Biden Seeks To Reform Exploitative Meat Packing And Poultry Industry

On Monday, President Joe Biden hosted a virtual discussion alongside Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Attorney General Merrick Garland to discuss plans to overhaul the meat and poultry industry. Notably absent from Biden’s panel with agriculture and farming industry leaders were talks of the ongoing pandemic, which has killed more than 250 workers employed by the five largest meatpacking companies in the country in 2020 alone. More than 59,000 of those workers contracted COVID-19 over the course of 2020, according to a congressional report released last October. The companies—which include Cargill, JBS Foods, National Beef, Smithfield Foods, and Tyson foods—weren’t named during the afternoon discussion, though Biden and others alluded to the “top four processing firms” that they feel are taking advantage of farmers and ranchers.

According to a fact sheet on Biden’s latest decision to unveil The Biden-⁠Harris Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain, “Four large meat-packing companies control 85 percent of the beef market. In poultry, the top four processing firms control 54 percent of the market. And in pork, the top four processing firms control about 70 percent of the market.” Much of the panel was about making a more equitable meat and poultry industry by incentivizing farmers and ranchers with various funding options to expand or build new facilities and research new ways of doing business. Little was said about the most marginalized workforce included in that industry, save for promises of potential great wages for those in rural communities and additional training for workers. “Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism. It’s exploitation,” Biden said at one point.

Instead, much was said about how those four big companies are screwing over meat and poultry suppliers, grocery stores, and consumers. According to Biden, the cost of 1 pound of hamburger meat now costs more than $5—a substantial rise compared with the pre-pandemic price of less than $4 per pound. The price for ground beef today is definitely on the higher side compared with the latest numbers from the Department of Labor, which shows that ground beef was indeed slightly less than $4 per pound in March 2020 but has since spiked and fluctuated to an average price of around $4.70 in November 2021. Vilsack announced the many ways that the American Rescue Plan will help the industry, including allocating an $800 million commitment for grants and loans meant to address capacity, workforce, and innovation challenges at facilities. For the first phase of the project, Vilsack hopes at least 15 projects will be funded through a $150 million grant project for new proposals. An additional $275 million will be provided to lending partners for loans for new facilities.

The new “Product of USA” labeling rules to be created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) could certainly incentivize meatpackers to do more business with U.S.-based farms and ranches, as the current regulations allow for meat to bear the “Product of USA” label no matter where the meat is raised, so long as it’s processed in the U.S. Biden, Vilsack, and Garland reiterated multiple times that the main issue is a lack of competition due to monopolies like the Big Four companies dominating the industry. Taking better care of ranchers and farmers who are committed to the legacy of their farms and yearn for the heyday of the industry ignores all the damage the meat and poultry industry has done to its workers and beyond. Agriculture accounted for 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, with the cattle industry being one of the main polluters. According to a paper published in 2017, researchers found that even living near a large-scale farm led to more risks of infection for residents.

Innovations could greatly reduce the environmental impact of farming, but that still doesn’t account for the grim conditions that have made the meat and poultry industry especially dangerous for workers throughout the pandemic. The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths reported by lawmakers are likely lower than in reality, as it’s nearly impossible to calculate the amount of undocumented immigrant workers. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), there is no federal or state data that accurately reveals how many undocumented workers are employed in the meat and poultry industry, in part because of many undocumented folks are fearful of responding to surveys like the census’ American Community Survey. The nonprofit think tank believes the data available shows a severe undercounting of the industry’s undocumented workers and offers little information in terms of demographics. Inaccurate employee counts, shoddy reporting from facilities, and minimal penalties when workers’ rights are violated disincentivize companies to make meaningful changes to ensure employees are being paid fairly in a safe environment.

There seems to be nothing in Biden’s latest push for reform that addresses these issues. To the administration, it appears that the buck stops at ranchers and farmers, many of whom have benefited from the country’s systemic racism. Looking solely at farmers from a wider lens of agriculture as a whole, white farmers make up well over 85% of producers in the U.S., according to an Eater article published in 2019. Discriminatory legislation like the Homestead Act largely benefited white Americans, while other laws like the California Alien Land Law of 1913 outright banned certain minority groups from owning land at all. It took until 1952 for the Supreme Court of California invalidate the California Alien Land Law, which had been upheld by multiple courts prior to that moment. It is absolutely time we rethink how the meat and poultry industry does business as well as agriculture as a whole. Plus, switching to a vegetarian diet does help reduce emissions, albeit only slightly—it’s still on giant polluters like those Big Four companies and other corporations in even more damaging industries to look towards greener solutions. What does a more ethical, greener meat and poultry industry look like to you? Or should it simply be abolished?

Article reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Renewables Best Coal As America's Second Largest Energy Source

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that renewables generated 21 percent of all electricity in the country for 2020. Renewable energy sources like biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind accounted for 834 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of the nation’s power last year. That falls just behind natural gas, which generated 1,617 billion kWh or 40% of all energy in the U.S. The news comes from a report released in July that the EIA shared again last week as the year winds down and we look towards 2022. The agency believes that coal-fired electricity use likely rose this year due to rising natural gas prices, increasing about 18 percent compared with 2020. This will likely push coal to be the second-most used energy source in 2021.

It’s highly unlikely that the trend of coal surpassing renewables will continue into 2022. For one, coal-fired electricity has been on the downturn since 2007 when it peaked at 2,016 billion kWh and was the largest source of energy until 2016, most likely because natural gas has replaced much of coal’s capacity. According to another EIA report, dozens of coal-fired plants have been replaced or converted to natural gas since 2011. Some of those decisions made by power companies are in order to comply with emissions regulations, like the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which was unveiled in 2011.

In the following years until 2019, Alabama Power Co. converted 10 of its generators at four Alabama coal plants to comply with the standard, which took effect in 2016.As for renewables, the EIA believes their power generation will rise 7% this year and another 10% next year. The agency also forecast that 2022 will be another year in which renewables are the second-most-used energy source, making 2020 not an anomaly, but a possible sign of trends to come. It’s anyone’s guess what 2022 will hold in terms of emissions, primarily because it’s unclear how deeply the pandemic will continue to affect the power industry.

Graph Shows Alterative Energy Beating Coal in 2021

images.dailykos.com


A report released on December 22 by the EIA shows that 2020 saw a substantial decrease in carbon dioxide emissions due in part to a warmer winter season and factors exacerbated by the pandemic, including more people working from home and traveling less, plus industry slowdowns resulting in lower commercial building activity. One of the long-term factors cited by the EIA was a trend in declining natural gas production. This resulted in a decrease in emissions of 11 percent in 2020, or 570 million metric tons compared to 2019. Such declines in emissions haven’t been seen since 1983, shortly after an amended Clean Air Act was implemented requiring cars built in 1981 and beyond to comply with lower emissions standards. More stringent emissions goals, such as the Biden administration’s push for 50 percent of new vehicles to be electric by 2030, could see a similar reduction that puts the U.S. one step closer to reaching its goal of net-zero by 2050.


Charlottesville Jury Holds 'Unite The Right' Nazis Liable For $25 Million In Damages

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Integrity First for America successfully made the Nazis involved in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville pay for their violence. The jury in the civil trial ruled decisively against a group of two dozen defendants, which included the likes of Richard Spencer and Chris "Crying Nazi" Cantwell representing themselves, as well as hate groups like Identity Evropa and League of the South -- finding that all parties violated the Virginia state law against civil conspiracy.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on counts one and two, which related to conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence and failure to stop the conspiracy. For the third claim, individuals must pay $500,000 in punitive damages while groups like Vanguard and Trad Workers Party must pay $1 million per group.

Eliott Kline, Robert "Azzmador" Ray, Spencer, and Cantwell were found liable for racial intimidation and will pay $200,000 apiece in punitive damages. Plaintiffs Natalie Romero and Devin Willis will receive $250,000 each. Liability was found against James Fields in count four, which encompasses "civil action for racial, religious, or ethnic harassment, violence or vandalism," according to the Virginia state code. For his role in claim five as it relates to assault and battery, Fields must pay $6 million in punitive damages.

Multiple plaintiffs will receive compensatory damages for claim five: April Muniz will receive $108,000, Marissa Blair will receive $200,000, Marcus Martin will receive $157,000, Thomas will receive $318,575, and Romero will receive $217,715. Fields must pay an additional $6 million as it relates to claim six, which is intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The total amount that these reprehensible Nazis must pay is around $25 million. Integrity First for America Executive Director Amy Spitalnick summed things up perfectly: "This case has sent a clear message: violent hate won't go unanswered. There will be accountability."

"These judgments underscore the major financial, legal, and operational consequences for violent hate—even beyond the significant impacts this case has already had. And at a moment of rising extremism, major threats to our democracy, and far too little justice, this case has provided a model for accountability," Spitalnick said in a statement.

The plaintiffs issued a statement praising Tuesday's verdict: "It has been a long four years since we first brought this case. Today, we can celebrate the jury's verdict finally holding defendants like [Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer, and Christopher Cantwell] accountable for what they did to us and to everyone else in the Charlottesville community who stood up against hate in August 2017. Our single greatest hope is that today's verdict will encourage others to feel safer raising our collective voices in the future to speak up for human dignity and against white supremacy."

Neo-Nazi Spencer Caught In Multiple Lies At Charlottesville Trial

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

In a shock to absolutely no one, Richard Spencer serving as his own lawyer has proven pretty terrible for, well, Richard Spencer. The glass-jawed Nazi known for barely being able to take a punch (among other undesirable traits) was forced to represent himself in a civil lawsuit after his real lawyer dropped Spencer for failing to pay up and adhere to his legal advice.

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Prominent QAnon Streamer Turns Out To Be Registered Child Molester

A QAnon streamer whose incendiary rants accusing Democrats of running a pedophile cabal earned him thousands of followers and led to his deplatforming on YouTube has been revealed to be a registered sex offender. David Todeschini, who goes by the name David Trent on his Net4Truth BitChute channel, was convicted of one count of first-degree sexual abuse and one count of second-degree sodomy, according to the New York sex offender registry.

Todeschini's real name and convictions were revealed by Right Wing Watch, which is dedicated to monitoring right-wing activists. The site was tipped off by Gabe Hoffman, who executive produced a documentary aiming to expose pedophilia in Hollywood, titled An Open Secret. Todeschini is considered a "level three threat," defined by the New York sex offender registry as "high risk of repeat offense and a threat to public safety exists."

The conspiracy theorist was 45 years old in 1996 when he coerced and sexually violated an eight year-old boy. Todeschini was convicted a few years later and sentenced to 28 months to seven years in state prison. He was released from prison in 2006 and has gone on to make a name for himself in the QAnon community.

The year prior to his release, Todeschini published a book he claimed exposes government secrets like "CIA drug smuggling, the JFK assassination, Operation Phoenix, Covert Operations, etc." A surprisingly prolific writer, Todeschini's works include a book purporting to teach readers to become human lie detectors and a book titled Psychiatry, Mind Control, Genocide, and Infanticide. Right Wing Watch notes that in 2006 Todeschini wrote a blog post defending Michael Jackson against child sexual abuse allegations.

Todeschini is a prolific streamer and frequently posts videos like "CABAL ARRESTED absolute proof" and "Epstein NOT Dead - on board his boat surrounded by military" packed with memes, rants, and outright threats to lawmakers. His latest show, titled "THE DS BS NEVER ENDS," was released the day after Right Wing Watch's report was published. Throughout the 46-minute video, Todeschini complains about the mainstream media, the trailer park he manages, and once again makes violent threats against Democrats. He does not, however, mention his registered sex offender status.